Martin Walker, CEO of Methven UK, discusses the role played by technology and design in the creation of usable bathrooms for the ageing population.
Thanks to technological advancements and better healthcare, the UK’s population is now living longer than ever - more than 11 million people are currently aged over 65, with one in three of us aged 55 and over. Whilst clearly this is great news, it also presents a host of challenges, not least of which is: how can you ensure bathrooms are safe for use by the ageing population?
Shelter (i) recently conducted a survey on housing options for the elderly and found that more than 50% of respondents believed their current bathrooms would require modification in order to make them more accessible and easy-to-use for elderly users. This need for change is reinforced by recent NHS statistics which revealed that £16million is spent on treating elderly patients for injuries associated with bath-related falls every year.
In addition to this, the Foundation for Lifetime Homes and Neighbourhoods has identified the bathroom as a key area that should be designed to embrace all ages and abilities. In response, manufacturers have been working hard to tackle the challenges facing the ageing population by developing products that improve safety and accessibility, helping to create bathroom spaces which are usable for the duration of a person’s life.
One example of this is product enhancements, such as longer, more ergonomically designed lever handles and/or looped lever handles which make showers and taps easier to operate, and can make the bathroom experience a more positive one. Likewise, new taps which feature clearer markings and instructions mean that those operating them can identify the hot from the cold much more easily.
Aside from design, the development of new technologies to future-proof bathrooms is also important. Often, the requirements of the aging population are dismissed simply as mobility challenges which can be resolved with the creation of walk-in showers or baths. Whilst providing some assistance, these methods fail to address many of the more serious issues facing the elderly in the bathroom. Showering, for instance, presents much larger challenges. Temperature, flow and spray pattern can all affect an older person’s showering experience and these considerations have all helped to shape recent technological breakthroughs in showering products.
When selecting products for the elderly, safety is extremely important, as hot water can cause a serious scald injury within seconds. In fact, severe scalding is the second most common cause of household injuries, with 570 serious bath water scald injuries occurring in the UK every year (ii).
Thermostatically controlled products can be the answer here as they contain valves that maintain a pre-set temperature even if the water pressure varies when other appliances are used, enabling users to accurately control the water temperature and significantly reduce the risk of scalding.
Elderly users also often have sensitive skin, so showers with a softer flow - such as Satinjet® by Methven - can be helpful. These showers create an optimum water droplet size, providing greater softness, warmth and coverage, whilst still delivering an immersive showering experience.
Elderly users can also benefit from cool-to-touch bar showers which ensure that the temperature of the shower valve never exceeds that of the water. Because it is safe to touch, users won’t scald themselves if they accidentally come into contact with the shower body, especially if shower space is limited.
Inclusivity and versatility will be imperative in shaping the future of the bathroom, with products being required to address the needs of the ageing population in particular. The bathroom should always be a user friendly and, most importantly, safe place to be.
(i) Shelter – ‘A better fit – housing options in later life’
(ii) Hot Water Burns Like Fire campaign